For Baby Boomers and seniors, summer is the perfect time for family fun–especially this year, with many of us vaccinated and feeling more comfortable spending time with others.
But chew on these statistics before packing up your next summer picnic: 1) about twice as many people get foodborne illness during the summer compared to other times of the year, 2) according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in six Americans becomes sick from eating contaminated foods each year, and 3) when older adults contract a foodborne illness, they are more likely to have a longer illness, require hospitalization ,or even die.
Beware the “Bugs” You Can’t See
Foodborne illnesses are caused by bacteria, viruses or parasites in the foods we eat. A few of the common culprits include Salmonella, E. Coli, Listeria, C. botulinum and Norovirus. A hardy army of villains, their numbers can more than double in 20 minutes given the right conditions, causing symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps and fever.
The foods most likely to cause foodborne illness are uncooked fresh fruit and vegetables or protein foods such as raw (unpasteurized) milk, soft cheeses made from raw milk, raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs.
Advancing Age Means More Problems
Many processes conspire to cause an increased susceptibility to foodborne illness as we age:
- Our liver and kidneys may not get rid of toxins as well as when we were younger.
- Our sense of taste or smell may be decreased, leaving us vulnerable to ingesting a contaminated food.
- Most older adults have one or more chronic disease; these conditions and medications used to treat them can weaken the immune system.
- Our bodies may be slower in recognizing and ridding themselves of infections such as foodborne illness.
Stay Safe When Packing A Picnic Meal
Here are some reminders to keep foods safe during the summer:
- Keep your hands and food contact surfaces clean. If clean water and soap are not available, pack convenient moist towelettes and paper towels.
- Keep vulnerable foods separated. Wrap raw meats securely and pack them away from ready-to-eat (RTE) foods (i.e., foods that will not be cooked before they are eaten), as juices from the protein foods can contaminate other items.
- Pack disposable cutlery so you don’t chance contaminating items using the same utensils for a raw then RTE food.
- Cook foods to proper temperature. Food illness organisms live in the danger zone of 41º – 135º. The good news is that higher temperatures kill the vast majority of these buggers. But the only way to make sure you kill them is with a food thermometer. So invest in one, pack it with your food or utensils and use it! Cook beef and pork to an internal temperature of 145º, ground beef to 160º and raw chicken to 165º.
- Keep vulnerable cold foods cold (cooked meats, luncheon meats, eggs, dairy products, cut raw fruit) by packing with ice or ice packs in an insulated container.
- Be willing to toss leftovers. Food left out of refrigeration for more than two hours can become contaminated. When in doubt, throw it out!
For more ways to eat with food safety in mind, reach out to me.